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New Hill Street trial 'endangers lives' - fire service

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Warkworth Fire Service stand at the Elizabeth Street trial.

Firefighters, Peter Connell and Sam Noyer talk about the issues with Hill Streets changes.

Changes at Warkworth's Hill Street intersection have cause confusion amongst drivers and resulted in this near miss.

A move by transport authorities to reduce confusion and congestion at the Hill Street intersection is having the opposite effect, with motorists travelling the wrong way down the street and congestion heavier than ever.

The Warkworth Fire Service says the new trial is putting people's lives at risk.

Auckland Transport (AT) and New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) started the trial on Monday, which bans cars from turning right onto Elizabeth Street in the hope to reduce one set of traffic movements and help vehicles move easily through the intersection.

A dozen orange 'safe-hit' flexible posts block the entry and the giveway from Sandspit Road adjacent to Elizabeth Street has been removed.

Fire Station Officer Peter Connell believes the changes may lead to the fire service not being able to attend jobs.

"By blocking off the entry to Elizabeth Street it delays our volunteers times in getting to the fire station to attend an incident. It is definitely going to slow down our turnouts and could even lead to no turn outs"

"We have six volunteers living on Hill Street and another five live on Whitaker Road. There is already a heavy traffic flow at the intersection and it now means the Hill Street residents have to take a detour to get to the station on Church Hill Street."

Drivers on the state highway will enter Warkworth town centre at Whitaker Road (south of Hill St), drivers exiting Hill Street will turn right onto the state highway and enter Warkworth township via Whitaker Road, and drivers exiting Warkworth at Elizabeth Street will continue to have unrestricted movement at this intersection.

Dashcam video shows a motorist travelling the wrong way down a street as another motorist swerves out of the way.

Firefighter Sam Noyer who lives on Whitaker Road already has issues getting to the station in the congestion.

"We already have issues on Whitaker Road, now there is going to be a bigger issue with everyone using Whitaker Road to go into Warkworth."

"We have a lot of trouble getting through the traffic as we leave our homes in our own cars, people do not know we need to get through. This change is putting more lives at risk, not only due to our service, but also by the amount of illegal turns and things that are happening as a result of the change."

The fire service are required to have the fire truck out within seven minutes of the call which was already hard enough before the changes.

"It was hard enough to get the truck out before the changes, now it is even harder and Christmas is going to be diabolical. I am a firm believer that people turning right is not causing the congestion, it is the main highway and four sets of lights," Connell says.

"Every minute counts on a job and we want NZTA and AT to consult with us about changes before they happen."

Auckland Transport's Mark Hannan says they have been in contact with the fire service prior to the start of the trial and have taken note of their concerns.

"This a three month trial with the emphasis on trial, we are actively monitoring the situation and will make changes if necessary. We will gather data on traffic movements which we will use to assess the success of the trial" Hannan says.

"It is hoped that by simplifying the number of turning movements and reducing confusion within the intersection it will make it easier to use and help traffic flow better."

Auckland Transport has put five VMS electronic boards up in the area telling motorists about the change.

There are also a number of fixed direction signs for motorists and AT has asked for police to monitor illegal turns.

"The trial follows significant feedback from the local community to address immediate safety as well as congestion issues at the Hill Street intersection - However, these interim improvements are not designed, or intended to be, a permanent long term solution to the intersection. Nevertheless, if successful these measures may form part of a long term solution," Hannan says.

Auckland Transport say the trails purpose "is to determine whether interim solutions can be effective in providing some small benefits while improvements to the wider road network in Warkworth are delivered."

Intersection users both agree and disagree with the changes.

Wellsford resident Craig Brown says the Hill Street intersection is dangerous but the change has it's positives.

"The only change that is being trialled is turning right into Elizabeth Street. It is a safe thing to do and it was something I suggested to council some time back. My advice is to stop complaining and see how it goes," Brown says on a Facebook post.

Leigh resident Marg Nelson also agreed.

"Warkworth was never designed to be a business hub, it was only ever meant to be a picturesque village by the river. With population shifts and better roads the town has grown and it's purpose has changed as has the traffic volumes," Nelson says.

"I get as frustrated as everyone else but at least now someone is trying alternate options that may help at least a little. Let's stop being critics and give this idea a fair go."

On the other hand a lot of users outraged with frustration.

Warkworth's Millstream Place resident shared her frustration at the number of cars using Millstream Place as a place to turn around to enter Elizabeth Street.

She said people simply enter the Hill Street intersection and take Millstream Place (the next street on the right) to do a U turn to then enter Elizabeth Street from the free left turn entrance.

"We have had at least 20 times the normal traffic today (the street is normally busy anyway). This is disruptive, dangerous and not a solution to the Hill Street intersection issue. The entering and exiting cars will cause accidents and congestion just a bit further up Matakana road,"she says.

"We can't get in or out off our street ourselves. Is this fair on the residents of tiny Millstream Place? And is this safe?"

The results of the trial will be used in AT and NZTA's investigations to identify the potential advantages or disadvantages of widening Sandspit Road and an additional left turn lane at the Matakana Road intersection.

"At the conclusion of the trial, the decision will be made whether to proceed with, modify or remove these improvements," Hannan says.

"We regret any inconvenience which these interim measures may cause and are happy to take feedback on the trials' performance."

-Rodney Times

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